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Like all mothers, I had always been keen on tracking the growth and development of the fetus and thereafter of the child. The inevitable comparisons with peers and over thought always followed. My child reaching physical and mental milestones was always a topic for discussion (whether or not initiated by me, it was mostly directed at me), be it with friends at a party or casual dinner or relatives at a family function.
When I attended my cousin’s marriage, my baby was 3 months old then, every female relative around had questions “Does she lift head when on tummy? Does she kick when on back? Oh she brings her fingers to the mouth.” And on and on.
When I answered those queries satisfactorily it meant the development was on right track but if something was missing there was always an old lady who comforted “That’s okay each child grows differently. Some kids walk early some talk early. Don’t worry.” However, I always made it a point to check whether my child met 80% of the parameters. I tracked her development on the following 5 key areas and fortunately she has been growing right. I also tried my best to give her activities that stimulated both her physical and mental development. As mothers we are the first and most important teachers to our kids in their most crucial years of development that is up to 6 years. Here are the areas and tips I am sharing with fellow moms:
1. Physical development – Gross and Fine motor skills
During the early stage (0-6 months) the baby does lots of activities right from holding her head, turn on tummy, roll, kick, smile, grab an object, sit and sometimes even crawl this is a crucial development stage. I helped to strengthen the muscles by giving good massages. I used to put a small finger puppet on her toe to improve her hand-eye coordination as she tried to grab it.I read a book by putting her in sitting position in my lap, so that she holds her posture, improves her grip, builds interest in books, observes pictures and understands and correlates sounds as I read.
Between 6-12 months the babies start crawling, then standing with support and walking and then finally walking without support. I offered a push & go toy that made her crawl more often. A string toy that made pleasant sound when pulled excited her and made her walk with the toy. She loved stacking the building blocks while gaining control in the sitting position. As she turned the pages of the cloth books and board books with bright colorful pictures she mastered her fine muscle controls.
12-24 months – My daughter like all kids loved pulling apart and putting together things at that stage. Interlocking blocks, building blocks, nesting blocks, paper to tear apart and simple puzzles engaged her well at this age. A tricycle built her physical strength.
24-36 months - Pouring water from one container to another was my daughter’s favorite play. Play-doh modeling clay helped her with better use of her hands and hand eye co-ordination. Also I started involving her in kitchen as that was her favorite place to be. I used to give her peas to peel to improve her pincer grip, vegetables and plastic play knifes to cut them, a small broom and dustpan for cleaning and I also involved her in folding napkin. All these were gradually improving her gross & fine motor skills.
2. Mental development
Just like the physical development, mental development plays an equally or rather more vital role in the growth cycle of the child. To ensure this a stimulating environment should be provided to the child. I took care that she develops thinking ability by following simple steps like reasoning the situations that she could understand and then asking her questions pertaining to similar situation. This also solved my problem where she was being stubborn in a situation.
Like one summer afternoon she wanted to play the slide at noon. The metallic slide was already too hot to touch. But she insisted. I explained her that metals heat up when exposed to sun or heat longer. She touched to verify and backed out. This had 2 advantages- she understood a concept and stopped being stubborn. Next time when she saw me making chapattis she said that the metal pan was hot due to fire.
To further develop her logical approach, I used picture story sequencing. To aide her problem solving skills I used puzzles and simple life situations. A ball stuck under bed which she was unable to remove with her hands, I asked her what she could do? Something long and slender might help. She ran to fetch a long stick and a broom and tried both the options to figure out what works. Next time she did it herself.
Sometimes simply by leaving her with a book or toy which she hasn’t used for a while, I aimed at preparing her to think differently by herself. Find new ways to play with same thing. And it worked.
3. Communication skills- Language learning
Just like us adults when a kid can think but cannot express she becomes frustrated after a while when she cannot get her point across. Communication skills play the role here. This is a gradual and continuous process. I made it a point to speak to my child from day one as if she understood what I was saying. I started by telling her the names of objects and people around her, then explaining the actions I was doing, then the uses of things around her, then places where she went, what she did, what sounds she was hearing. Literally everything. It was tiresome sometimes to talk but I did it and it really helped my child a long way. Telling stories, singing rhymes, reading to the child, questioning and telephonic conversations all help them communicate better because these things add to their vocabulary and also teach them how to express. Kids have a huge learning capacity and are able to learn up to 6 languages in these early years so the more we train them the better they learn. We should never stop explaining to the child under the prejudice that kids don’t understand anything. The young generation is way smarter than we can imagine.
4. Social & Emotional Development
Our current social structure of nuclear families, busy office routines, less number of neighbor interactions and even lesser visitors is posing a big challenge for young mothers to get their single child socialize even a bare minimum. It happened in my case also. Although my daughter had her grandparents around all the time, we had very few visitors or neighbor’s interactions. I was not very social too. I think this could be one of the reasons apart from individual nature that she often shied away from people. I had to change our routine to get her to open up a little.
I started by inviting kids home from her playschool whom she was comfortable playing with, and started involving her in conversations with fellow kids and moms. I took her to my friends with kids more often. I asked her to introduce her playschool friends to me. Gradually she started opening up.
To help her express her emotions we played a game where I used to make different faces and ask her to guess how I was feeling. Some cartoon movies also helped me in this matter. I sometimes explained her jokes to introduce humor. And often when she had a meltdown for different reasons I explained her the situation and told her whether she was angry, disappointed or crying because she was sad. This helped me a lot in social and emotional development of my child.
5. Independence or Self help
Kids are naturally inclined to and want to do things all by themselves. Most of the times we parent stop them to avoid the trouble of cleaning up the mess that they would eventually make out of it. But trust me this positive value in the child if channelized properly it becomes a great help than mess. I started off by performing simple tasks with her like putting shoes back on rack after use. Picking up toys after play etc. Then gradually she started doing it all by herself. I also involved her in folding laundry or dusting the furniture or helping me with laying the dinner table. And she loved it and did carefully because she liked the involvement and appreciation as well.
Other routine tasks like allowing her to eat by herself and brushing teeth were little things which have now become good habits. She now does it all herself with little or no supervision. Right from putting on shoes, dressing up, eating food, drinking water, folding clothes, carrying her schoolbag and literally everything.
All this is achievable with efforts on family’s part, primarily the mother and the child. Only this will not help if good and healthy nutritious diet is not part of the routine. Food that is varied and rich in taste, texture and nutrition is the key player.
Mothers try their best to provide nutritious food but kids need more at the early age. Certain nutrients like DHA that are extremely important for brain development are are hard to find in the daily diet.
A complete nutritional diet that helps physical and mental growth will make our kids smarter in this competitive world.
PS: Try this interesting survey on development milestones by Junior Horlicks.
Image Credit: mumbabyandlove's